Minnesota students who are learning to speak English held steady on both the math and reading portions of  the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which were released today.

In math, 29 percent of students in grades 3-8 are proficient and 16 percent in grades 3,8 and 10 are proficient in reading, according to those test results. The scores were unchanged from the previous year.

At first blush, that might not sound like good news. But consider this. Last year, that subgroup of students had a free fall on the reading test, dropping 20 percentage points.

Those declines were seen across the board, a consequence of tough, new standards on which students were tested. But English language learners easily experienced the biggest drop.

So steady is good news. And big changes are coming soon to the way schools go about helping English language learners as a result of several new policy changes that lawmakers approved this spring.

In general, those changes prompt schools to recognize the value of being bilingual.

Specifically, the new law requires: schools to use strategies that teach reading and writing in the students native language and English at the same time; teacher candidates to be trained in content instruction for English learners and teachers seeking to renew their license demonstrate content instruction in English for students learning how to speak the language.

"(Being bilingual) is an asset," said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "The business community certainly sees the value of having a home language and that's a good thing."